Your hamster develops a bald patch on his skin, starts scratching himself constantly and his skin looks red and irritated. When you look closely at his irritated skin it looks like there are little black dots moving around. The bad news is your hamster has mites. The worse news is that, depending on the type of mite, you and your other pets might soon be itching and scratching right along with him.
Mites are fairly common, and most healthy hamsters have mites on their skin. Hamsters can get mites from other animals as well as from items in their environment, such as bedding that may be contaminated with the parasites. As long as your hamster is healthy, his immune system will keep a potential mite infestation under control and you won't see any symptoms.
As your hamster ages, becomes ill or stressed you may see symptoms of a mite infestation including red patches on his skin, extreme itchiness or hair loss -- you might even be able to view the mites crawling around on his skin. If your hamster appears to have mites, or any other skin disorder, you need to take him to a veterinarian for treatment. Scratched, raw skin can be vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections that will make your hamster sick and miserable. Untreated mite infestations can be contagious to both humans and other pets. Your veterinarian can treat mites with sprays, dips and oral medication.
Demodex mites, notoedres mites and sarcoptic mites cause mange. Mange is a highly contagious skin infection that can cause misery for you, your hamster and your other pets. Your veterinarian will diagnose mange by taking a skin scraping and identifying the specific type of mite under a microscope. He will then prescribe a treatment specifically intended for getting rid of the type of mite causing the problem. You cannot treat mange on your own without prescription medications, and the problem will continue to get worse if it is left untreated or is treated improperly. Because mange can spread to humans and from humans to other humans or pets, it's essential you take your hamster's hair loss and other symptoms seriously.
Dealing with Mites and Mange
If your hamster has been diagnosed with mites or mange, you need to take steps to treat the problem and prevent its potential spread. Clean and disinfect your hamster's living enclosure completely. Throw everything that cannot be completely sterilized away. Separate your infected hamster from all other animals so the condition cannot spread. If your hamster has mange, you will need to wear long sleeves and gloves while cleaning the cage and handling your hamster until you are no longer at risk of catching the ailment.
- The Pet Advantage: Hamsters
- Hammy's World: Hamster Fur Loss
- Hamsterific: Quick Reference Illness Guide
- The British Hamster Association: Dermatitis
- Pet Web Site: Mites
- Pet Web Site: Mange
- Pet Web Site: Fur Loss
- Merck Veterinary Manual: Skin Diseases
- Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital: Hamsters - Basic Care
- Desert View Animal Hospital: Health Care for Hamsters
Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.